Thursday, 24 June 2021

Wargrave Local History Society

GRAHAM JONES gave a presentation on the history of the Lambourn Valley Railway at the society’s February meeting.

Mr Jones, who showed rare old footage of the railway, began to investigate the history of the line from Newbury to Lambourn when his son moved to a house on the old track.

The railway was built in the 19th century on land which had been used for farming since Saxon times.

Following changes in the production and price of arable crops, the economy of the Lambourn Valley collapsed and rearing more animals was not a solution as Lambourn was connected to Newbury by just a rough track.

The line was therefore built to transport spoilable goods faster and bring resources such as coal to Lambourn as well as bringing horses for racing in the area.

After a failed attempt to build the line in 1873, the Lambourn Valley Railway Company was formed nine years later.

The construction suffered several hiccups, including the engineer and contractors walking away from the project and their replacements being taken to court by the railway company.

In 1897 a Yorkshire firm, Pearsons, took on the project and completed the line by the following year.

By then the company had run out of money and owned no freight wagons, passenger carriages or locomotives.

George Archer-Houblon, the chairman, personally paid for carriages and wagons, each one carrying a plaque bearing his name.

An old engine was also borrowed from the Great Western Railway and on April 2, 1898 the line finally opened, providing travel to Newbury in just 45 minutes.

Two months later the company bought its first engine, named Ealhswith.

Despite making an operating surplus of £934 in 1903, the company began to rack up a large debt and following a disastrous deal with GWR to buy two “railmotors” to replace its engines, which were then found not to have enough power to make their way up the incline of the Lambourn Valley, agreed to sell the Lambourn Valley Line to the company in 1905.

GWR modernised the line with brick stations and platforms and the line prospered in the Twenties and Thirties.

The branch enjoyed good business from horse boxes but the increasing prosperity of the area allowed the council to reap the benefit in taxes, which were invested in roads and public transport, putting the future of the line in jeopardy.

In the Fifties the line delivered weapons to a US military base in Welford.

Passenger services were stopped in the Sixties and freight trains lasted until 1972, with the line being dismantled a few months later.

While most of the track has now disappeared, parts of the alignment form the Lambourn Valley Way, a protected footpath.

The society’s next meeting will be the annual meeting on Tuesday, March 14.

On Tuesday, April 11, George Rawlinson will talk about his time growing up in Wargrave.

Meetings take place in the Old Pavilion at the recreation ground in Recreation Road, Wargrave, starting at 8pm.

For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 9403121 or visit

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